Steelers’ Mike Tomlin says Jaylen Samuels could miss a month
It looks like the Pittsburgh Steelers will have their Duck on the field Sunday night when they play the Los Angeles Chargers.
What they won’t have is the leader of their wildcat.
While quarterback Mason Rudolph’s availability remains in question because of a concussion, hybrid running back Jaylen Samuels will miss a month, coach Mike Tomlin said, after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery Monday.
Tomlin revealed Samuels’ injury — but provided little clarity on Rudolph’s situation — at his weekly news conference Tuesday.
Samuels, who ran the wildcat formation to mixed reviews the past two weeks, sprained his knee Sunday in the Steelers’ 26-23 overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens, a defeat that dropped their record to 1-4.
“We made a decision to fix it and fix it ASAP,” Tomlin said.
Samuels’ injury likely will abort usage of the wildcat formation. Samuels excelled as a hybrid tight end/running back in college, and the Steelers implemented the wildcat package two weeks ago against Cincinnati as they searched for a way to generate offense minus quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
After using the wildcat for seven snaps in the 27-3 victory, the Steelers deployed it three times — with disastrous results — against Baltimore. Samuels threw an interception that led to a Ravens touchdown and was dropped for a 5-yard loss on his lone rush out of the formation.
For the season, Samuels has 18 carries for 50 yards and a touchdown. He also caught 13 passes for 83 yards and was 4 for 5 on pass attempts for 35 yards.
Tomlin used one of his favorite analogies when discussing how the Steelers will proceed without Samuels.
“When we are dealing with circumstances, we had red paint, so we pained our barn red,” Tomlin said. “OK, now maybe yellow. … Obviously, Jaylen was a guy we could lean on and a guy who had some in-game experience, some playmaking ability and some versatility. Now that he’s not, we’ll continue to spin the dial and work on the collective strengths of the group.”
Rookie running back Benny Snell Jr. will move up the depth chart and back up starter James Conner while Samuels is sidelined. Snell has carried six times for 30 yards — with a long gain of 23 yards — while primarily playing on special teams. Trey Edmunds likely will be promoted from the practice squad.
“I know that he’s champing at the bit to be a contributor,” Tomlin said about Snell. “He’s a high-energy young guy. He’s been highly productive in special teams. … It’s been really impressive, but, obviously, we drafted him to be a running back and he’ll probably get an opportunity to get some exposure there, and I’m sure he’ll be excited about it.”
The situation at quarterback isn’t as clear cut. Rudolph remains in concussion protocol, and Tomlin was encouraged to see him at the team complex Monday but said it is too early to tell if Rudolph will be cleared to play against the Chargers.
“I’m not getting into hypotheticals,” he said. “There are just too many of them, and we are too far out (from game time).”
Undrafted free agent Devlin Hodges, nicknamed “Duck Dynasty” because of his duck-calling skills as a child, will be prepared to start Sunday night, Tomlin said. Hodges completed 7 of 9 passes for 68 yards after he replaced Rudolph midway through the third quarter Sunday. He directed a touchdown and a field goal drive among his four possessions.
“He has an awareness and savvy, or moxie, about him that is beyond his experience,” Tomlin said. “It was evident in Latrobe. He carried it in the preseason stadiums, and now he has given us a little insight that he is capable of carrying it in the regular season. It is all positive.”
Tomlin said he is “comfortable” at the depth behind Hodges and indicated the Steelers wouldn’t bring in another quarterback. Paxton Lynch, a former first-round pick, would be promoted from the practice squad if Rudolph is inactive.
The Steelers also could be without wide receiver James Washington (shoulder) and inside linebacker Mark Barron (hamstring) against the Chargers. Tomlin said their availability is questionable while also revealing starting safety Steve Nelson is dealing with a groin injury that surfaced after the game Sunday.
Tomlin doesn’t use injuries as an excuse for failure, and he doesn’t want his players responding that way, either.
“We don’t see ourselves as misfortune,” he said. “We have had control and opportunity to win these games. Our record is our record. We are bringing that approach to our preparation.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .